Farm groups didn't waste much time fretting over what might have been in the Doha negotiations. Three days after the suspension of the talks, the nation's largest farm organization began pushing for a renewal of the 2002 farm bill.
But Farm Bureau's call for a one-year extension of the current law and the reaction in Congress and the Bush administration may foreshadow more difficult debates ahead for it and other farm groups.
By extending the current farm program, AFBF President Bob Stallman said, “We will move forward with a policy that helps ensure U.S. farmers have the support they need to survive in today's contentious global trading environment.”
Stallman said Farm Bureau remains committed to world trade reform, but the failure by trade ministers to break the deadlock made it nearly impossible to conclude the WTO talks by the end of the year.
“We will continue to evaluate the opportunity for global trade talks, but the current situation dictates it is time for the United States to move forward for the sake of the economic health of America's farms, and that path leads us directly to at least a one-year extension of our current farm program and the extension of trade promotion authority.”
Those sentiments may be a tough sell in Congress. The day before Stallman's press statement, Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., told DTN's Jerry Hagstrom that proposals for a one-year extension of the farm bill are “too simplistic.”
The Senate Agriculture Committee chairman said he finds a lot to like in the current law, but…. “If we do an extension, we've got to do some tweaking.” He said he also prefers a five-year bill to provide stability to the industry.
Chambliss' comments amounted to an endorsement of the current law compared to those of Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns in one of the press conferences following the suspension of the Doha Round. Asked what the collapse meant to the farm bill, Johanns said it made “reform” of U.S. farm subsidies even more important.
Although farmers repeatedly called for keeping the current law during the 50 or so farm bill forums USDA conducted last year, Johanns has said the listening sessions provided a mandate for slashing subsidies for the program crops.
“Keep in mind, 60 percent of U.S. farmers receive virtually nothing from the farm bill,” he said. “Ninety-three percent of the subsidies go to five crops — corn, wheat, rice, cotton and soybeans.
“This is truly a situation where every four or five years we get an opportunity to examine farm policy,” he said. “It's important for all farmers to examine farm policy, to draft farm policy that is equitable, that is predictable, that is beyond challenge.”
Later, Johanns conceded farmers in Lubbock, Texas, had asked him not to change a word of the farm bill. “But that was not a universal theme that I heard as I was out across the country talking about the legislation.”